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Lawmakers criticize Bush's order for military tribunals

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, led a group of House lawmakers Friday in criticizing President Bush's recent order to provide military tribunals for suspected terrorists.

Calling the order "a civil liberties calamity in this country," Conyers said the order places "the executive branch in the unattainable role of legislator, prosecutor, judge and jury. And so we are here to try and separate out some of these issues, and determine what we in the legislative branch can do about it."

President Bush issued the order on November 13, directing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to be responsible for deciding all rules of such trials, including whether to keep any or all of the procedures secret. A military commission appointed by the secretary would decide guilt or innocence, what evidence to admit, and could even invoke the death penalty without a unanimous verdict of guilt.

Conyers was joined at the news conference by several Democrat colleagues, as well as Rep. Bob Barr, R-Georgia. The lawmakers claim the military tribunals would be an abuse of executive power that threatens the civil liberties the nation has been fighting for since September 11.

Barr called for "immediate hearings" on the order.

"The scope of this executive order takes your breath away," Barr said. "This is most disturbing that it's being done in this manner and this substance."

The order actually is not an executive order but a military order signed by the president as commander in chief.

Others suggested the administration has lost sight of democratic principles the country is fighting for.

"We should never be so fearful," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, "as to think somehow we can gain a great measure of security by being willing to set aside the Bill of Rights or any other hallowed legal principle that forms the bedrock of our society."

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, whose district includes the part of Manhattan where the World Trade towers were attacked, took issue with the order because it singles out "non-citizens" suspected of terrorist acts.

"The Constitution says no person -- doesn't say no citizen -- no person shall be denied life, liberty or property without due process of law," Nadler said. "Every person is guaranteed a right of trial by jury for an infamous or otherwise capital crime. It doesn't say citizen. To argue that the president on his own can determine that (a) person is an enemy agent, and therefore can be tried under the law of war, is to give the president unlimited power."

An individuals chosen for such a military tribunal would have no right to a jury trial, no right to confront his accuser and there is no right to judicial review of the trial procedures or the sentence.


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